Sunday, 4 September 2011

a field student of dirt

As Field Study's Man in E17 I lay in bed wracked by visions of the E17 Art Trail’s conviviality gone asunder. In this delirium I envisaged all manner of strife as the great collective of E17 welcoming mats, and further (onto the carpets and rugs), lay spoiled by the niffy doggy doings of Walthamstow’s poop ridden highways and byways. I would have to do something to allay my fears borne out of some unfortunate E17 field expeditions carried out earlier in the year. And so, as Field Study’s Man in E17, I present to you a report on this scatological issue.       
I have deliberated over this post for well over a week due to a variety of dilemmas concerning aetheticizing of the excremental. The dilemmas are further complicated by the diversity of motivations and 'energies' which constitute the E17 Art Trail. As Field Study's Man in E17 I have put my critical foot in it on a few occasions, however here I must critically go where other dogs have gone before in an attempt to demonstrate some learning from mistakes - a sort of art trail pedagogy or 'pedadoggy' as we dogs in the field might say.
So, to salve my dog dirt ridden conscience I decided to remove dog mess from the footpaths of E17 in between my visits to art trail venues. I contemplated conducting the altruistic acts in a radical transgressive manner, in that I could have done it bare handed - performance art in one of its base manifestations. The technical and social hygiene implications of this raw approach are rife and so I opted for a series of safer poop removal procedures. The things one does for art and the things one does as art might be a critical distinction to make to question the validity of the artfulness of this gesture. Still I found it difficult not to see my civic action as being an intervention in the sociability of the art making up the trail. When and how can an art work be defined as being separate from the event in which it was encountered?  As the number of stools in the bag in the bin increased I confess to a certain sense of self congratulation - well done man, you are a bloody hero, you should be proud of yourself!      
One dilemma concerns when to accept being an unsung hero or to sing one's own praises. The consequences of being unsung and not singing can be profound. I recall applying for a post of art teacher and following my unsuccessful interview I was told I had not talked myself up enough. Of course, confident inspiring teachers are a must in the classroom and so I departed (my portfolio hanging limply between my legs) cogitating on the better judgement of those more experienced and up there, so to speak. As Field Study’s Man in E17 I am down here developing my field art in relation to pedagogy by paying particular attention to byways close to schools. Sadly I can report the majority of the 20 odd dog dos I removed were found on pavements close to schools. Would I have stooped to such levels of artistic, pedagogic and social altruism had I been successful in the art teacher interview room? Of course this is not to say teachers do not do their bit by removing dog dirt from the pavements, that they are 'above' such acts. Nor do I wish to vainly denigrate the work of the street cleaners. In some areas I struggled to find dog mess for what might be a number of reasons; the responsibility of dog owners, the work of street cleaners and a sense of responsibility shared by others from across the professional spectrum. As Field Study's Man in E17 I will not make claims to any artistic originality in my cleansing acts; others more modest did the same.   
Most famous in scatological art is Piero Manzoni’s tinned ‘artists shit’ flogged by Sotheby’s (no less) for a handsome sum.  Chris Ofilli, with his paintings mounted on elephant dung, has been a subject in some local schools. An exhibition derived from this study was a part of last year’s art trail. With the complexity of ‘context’ in mind I have some reservations about how to add my recent works to my portfolio - a field study in progress. However my failures in art teacher interview rooms, and current lowly professional status (related to the arts), have not dampened my enthusiasm for art and services to art. Field Study's Man in E17 is not bitter; he is, or I am, on occasion, as sweet as honey. So I have determined to try and keep doing my bit for the cultural well being of the community, here, locally and further afield. How well is this achieved by relegating the value of my civic actions to the novelty of an art(istic) conceit?


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